Kate Knuth, Ph.D.
Sustainability Scholar, Idea Entrepreneur, Climate Citizen
Throughout my career, I have navigated the intersections of nature, science, research, government, and civic life. I’ve done so with the purpose of understanding the world we live in and making it better.
As an undergraduate, I studied biology and philosophy. I worked at the Field Museum of Natural History and served as National President of the co-ed Venturing program of the Boy Scouts of America. Post-college, I spent a year in Norway as a Fulbright student, studying how the country’s strong environmental ethic impacted development of oil into one its major industries. I then moved to England to continue my education at the intersection of people and the environment, competing a M.Sc. at the University of Oxford in biodiversity conservation. While many of my classmates did thesis field work involving plants and wildlife, I spent three weeks in Washington D.C. trying to secure interviews with members of Congress for a study of environmental voting records and leadership (miraculously, I actually secured two interviews).
A Turning Point– Running for Office
In late August 2005, I was finishing up my master’s thesis and, like many Americans, watching with horror as Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Over days, that horror turned into anger at how a terrible extreme weather event intersected with racial and economic injustice in ways that made many people suffer.
I’d been concerned about climate change, but that was the moment that made me reflect deeply on what I could personally do about it.
I decided the best thing I could do was run for office.
So, I moved back to my hometown, a suburb of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, and ran for the Minnesota House of Representatives. A little more than a year later, with the help of an amazing group of volunteers, I won the election. I served three terms.
While in the legislature, I focused mainly on climate change and toxic chemical policy reform (think making sure the products kids use don’t have poisonous stuff in them), issues in the Department of Commerce (insurance! and lots of energy stuff), and figuring out the state budget (both spending and taxes).
The part of my service that I’m most proud of was approaching the job in a way that invited my constituents into the process of governing, trying to make government into more of a partner for solving problems rather than only a regulator or service provider.
Back to School
While in the legislature, I enrolled in a Ph.D. program in Conservation Sciences at the University of Minnesota. While I originally planned to study pollination in apple orchards for my dissertation, I again asked myself an important question – what is important to understand deeply for this time?
My answer was how to create change – more specifically, how do people drive the kinds of transformational change needed to achieve sustainability in the face of major environmental change? I completed my dissertation in January 2019.
In 2011, while working on the Ph.D., I started a leadership development program for graduate students at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment. The goal was to develop the kinds of change agents needed to deal with the complex challenge society faces. Six years later, I saw a tweet about Minneapolis hiring its first Chief Resilience Officer and applied. I got the job and led early development of Minneapolis’ resilience approach and developed community engagement for the program. During this time, I continued in public service with a role in the executive branch of state government as Citizen Member of Minnesota’ Environmental Quality Board. The Board takes on responsibilities on environmental review and cross-agency leadership on environmental issues.
I bring all of these experiences – in public life, government, and academia – to the work here at Democracy and Climate. I hope you enjoy, are challenge by, and learn from what you find on the site.